21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Mt. 16:21-28)
Today is celebrated as Ascension Sunday throughout the Christian Church, marking the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father as Lord and King of all. In an important sense, this celebration marks the day on which all that Jesus did in this world was fulfilled. He was born as Lord, lived as Lord, died as Lord, rose as Lord, but the ascension marks His enthronement as Lord. In this sense, we can speak of Jesus arriving where His entire life was aiming toward. Or using the language of our sermon text, in the ascension, Jesus found His life.
Summary of the Text
We pick up right after Peter’s famous confession of faith, and from that point Jesus began regularly saying that He was going to Jerusalem to die and rise again (Mt. 16:21). At some point, Peter, having so recently been praised for his correct answer about Jesus, begins rebuking Jesus for talking this way (Mt. 16:22). But Jesus says that this rebuke is a satanic temptation to prefer the things of man over the things of God (Mt. 16:23). Jesus says that His mission is to gain the glory of His Father, and He invites all men to follow Him in preferring these things over his own things, his own life, or even the whole world (Mt. 16:24-26). This path will be vindicated when Jesus comes in the glory of His Father and rewards men according to their works (Mt. 16:27-28).
In our world, we are bombarded with messages and advertisements for finding yourself, for finding happiness, success, fulfillment. And in many ways, what we are talking about is glory. Glory is how the Bible describes someone really shining, doing and being what they were created to be (Ps. 8:5). And this glory really is something unique, something without comparison, something different (Prov. 30:18-19). But in a random world, success and glory are necessarily random. Finding yourself is like winning the lottery. Therefore, in a random world, the mantra: be different! really is the best advice. While the odds may not technically be in your favor, if you know that the people with glory are different and unique, then you might as well start trying now. The funny thing is that the images and suggestions given are self-contradictory: be yourself and be different and buy this Coke, wear these clothes, have this phone plan, go organic (like everyone else). Jesus is interested in answering the same question, but He is refreshingly honest and straightforward. He knows that people can never find themselves all by themselves. Finding yourself, finding what you were made for is always found through following others. The only question is who are you following? Who are you trusting?
A Bad Bargain
Jesus says that we are naturally inclined to make deals with the devil, settling for more now in exchange for less later: more life now for less life later, more profit now for less profit later, more glory now for no glory later (Mt. 16:23-26). But this is to assume that there is no ultimate justice in the universe. It is fundamentally atheistic. Notice also that the Satanic offer isn’t the offer of sin on a platter full of worms. Satan comes in this episode in the voice of a close friend, a faithful disciple, and an apostle. As Paul says elsewhere, Satan transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). False apostles, deceitful workers transform themselves into apostles of Christ (2 Cor. 11:13). Satanic ministers transform themselves into “ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15). In other words, what Satan offers is typically some good thing. The bad deal is what that other good thing is taking you away from, what you are losing in the process. Satan is the thief who comes over to give you a welcome basket only to rob you. But Jesus says that the way to true life, profit, and glory is through following Him with a cross, losing your life for His sake, and being willing to forfeit the whole world (Mt. 16:24-26). One of the ways Christians get this wrong is by assuming that the way of Jesus must be whichever way looks worse. But that isn’t what Jesus says. He says to follow Him, to lose our lives for His sake. This means fundamentally that the way to find your life is through obedience. And what this means is leaning in. The pagan instinct is to pull away, to try to be different, but the way of Jesus is to follow.
A Few Different Applications
For young people, one of the temptations is to find yourself primarily in comparison with your parents. The temptation is to carve out your own space, to try to be different from your mom or your dad. But the fifth commandment is straight forward: honor your father and mother. Lean in, follow their example. Some of you come from broken families, and of course, you must not follow sinful examples. All of us have sinful fathers and mothers, but God knew about sin when He gave us the fifth commandment. Find what there is to honor, and honor it. Let your heart be free to embrace the gifts of your family. Lean in and find yourself.
One of the ways you know Jesus and Peter were friends is by this sharp confrontation and correction. “Faithful are the wounds of a friends, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Prov. 27:6). “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you” (Prov. 9:8). “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17). Not wanting to offend or not wanting to let friends down can be some of the most powerful forces in the world, and in the name of friendship and kindness great evil can creep in. Are you trying to find yourself in your friendships? Or are you committed to following Christ in obedience no matter what?
Similar temptations can creep into young families or other new ventures, like a new second service. The temptation can be to zero in on the differences. In our family, what makes us who we are is that we don’t… (fill in the blank) like our parents. In this new service, what makes us different is … But this is to buy into the world’s way of finding glory. You don’t find your identity by highlighting your differences. You don’t find yourself by strict conformity. You find yourself by following Jesus and following those who have followed Him well (1 Cor. 4:16-17). The point is that we are following Christ, obeying Christ together, trusting that this is the best investment in the world.
How did Jesus find Himself? He obeyed His Father. He knew His duty, and He could not be distracted by the offers of the devil. How did He do this? “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). He considered the joy of the glory of the Father, the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at His right hand (Ps. 16:11).